One of the more popular conceptions of happiness to have reached me is based on achieving a sense of contentment with what you have. Presumably, you also have to like tautology. Not very ambitious or entrepreneurial you might think, but it does recognise that deliberately opting to run cheek by jowl with risk and strenuousness over prolonged periods can bring failure,  disappointment, setback in fortunes, anxiety, even health and relationship problems.

Unless you are very lucky that is. There are some people whose plans do not appear to gang aft agley. They seem to be able to jump from floe to floe, and stroll, unscathed, through minefields. Why is it that a few of us seem to have, if not the Midas, then at least the Micawber Touch, whereby something does indeed always turn up?

One friend of mine had such a reputation. He would decide on a course of action, and it appeared that even the seas would open up for him. There were no machines that wouldn’t work, no misunderstandings, no rows or resignations, nor the hundred and one other things that beset everyone else. When he got married, he announced that he and his wife wanted three children, a girl, followed by two boys. Statistically, the odds of that happening are 87.5% against. He and his wife duly went ahead and achieved it. We nicknamed him “Golden Balls”.

So what is luck? There seems to be a wealth of opinion, from fatalism at one extreme, to a magical world of mojo, planetary juxtapositioning,  and a phobia about ladders at another. The sceptical perspective states that, as with ghosts, if you really look at what’s going on there is a perfectly rational explanation.

Rather like the agnostic who goes to church just in case, some people seem to see no inconsistency about holding a combination of viewpoints. This is intriguing. While most of my set would probably agree that nothing is ‘written’, some are not averse, on occasion, to shrugging things off with a consolatory  ‘It was not to be!’   Others, while exercising all the rigorous disciplines of their engineering and scientific professions, will still take a glance at their stars, or wear a certain pair of shoes when it’s particularly important that things turn out right.

For those who believe (and after all, it’s all belief) that everything is pre-ordained, life requires stoicism. Whether we are fish in the sea, or fish in a restaurant tank, it all ends the same way.

For those who believe you can get a mojo working by blowing on dice or doing Zodiac – may the force be with you.

I am more interested by the sceptical challenge. Adherents to this view are inclined to say things like you make your own luck, which is a great sound-bite, but is it true? Within whatever framework we can perceive as meaningful and urgent, two things seem clear. Firstly, there are beneficial things that happen which are not of our initiation; and secondly, bad things happen that are beyond our control to prevent. This to me is the essence of luck – it affects us certainly, but not in the sense of reliable design. So the suggestion that we make our own luck is not so much analysis as exhortation. Propagation of good luck is beyond our control. We can only position ourselves hopefully. Bad luck seems a bit different in that we can prepare to mitigate some of the effects at least. We call it risk. We insure. We buy cars with airbags. We fit lightening conductors to chimneys.

Success will always require sagacity and hard work. Unfortunately, even these might not be enough. To shield against some aspects of outrageous fortune takes foresight, money and effort, but can be achieved. For the rest, fingers crossed.



© Peter Saxton

April 2014.